If you chose this topic as the main issue for your college paper or are just interested in this not quite familiar word, then our article will be very useful to you.
The concept of habitus is most closely associated with the theory of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Although, of course, it was not he who invented it. The early history of the concept and its appearance in sociology is rather vague. Different sources offer different historical reconstructions.
According to one version, it generally comes from botany, where subspecies of one plant species that differ in constitution depending on the environment in which they grow are considered to have different habitus. For example, the same trees will grow straight with more powerful trunks in the warmer climate, and as you move towards the tundra, they will grow denser and lower.
The same thing happens to people depending on the social environment in which they grow: they acquire different constitutions, but here we mean an internal constitution, not an external one. People develop in different dispositions, with different abilities and willingness to react spontaneously to emergent situations, which greatly distinguish them from each other. Bourdieu uses habitus in the two senses: the one is wider, the other one is narrower.
In a broad sense, which generates a lot of confusion, habitus is synonymous with any teaching. Any deeply hidden or imprinted habits we inherit from childhood can be called habitus in life. In sociology they are usually called exactly this way.
But there is the narrower concept, which is analytically more important to Bourdieu. It stands behind the broader concept, but they are not completely identical. The narrower definition is more specific. Habitus is synonymous with the feeling of one's own place. In a social structure different people feel differently what is intended for them, what they can claim, what is their right, and what is not quite usual for them. The habit forces them to sort out open opportunities that they can claim and those that they cannot.
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Three Categories of People
The easiest way to distinguish these people is to look at the way they behave at a museum or in some other situation, requiring them to express and state their artistic judgment. There are people who believe that everything exists for them. They boldly come to the museum, they choose what they like, they know that some forms of art are more complex and require more skill, and go to "consume" precisely this art because they always choose the most difficult and honorable task.
They often cope with it simply because they put their hands to it, while others do not do it. They know that their taste is good because it is their taste. If they do not like a picture, it means that this is a bad picture, and not that they do not understand it. In any situation they feel like at home because they think that any situation should be proud of the fact that they generally got into it.
At the other extreme, there are people who believe that a museum is for the educated, that if they do not understand something, then, probably, something is wrong with them. Perhaps they did not do well at school. If they do not like some art, it should be hidden from others if possible. They run through the museum for the sake of appearance. And the only place where they feel comfortable is a museum cafe, but they are not very cheerful even there. A cafe outside the museum is much better. And the best way for them is to be in the crowd on excursions. They follow a lot of other people who can be accurately copied and among whom they can get lost.
There is the third category somewhere in the middle. These people want to be like the ones in the first category, but they know that they cannot cope with this task. Such people go to the museum armed with guidebooks, so they precisely mark which halls to visit and which art to see. They consult some authoritative source to find out which picture is the most significant. In general, they approach the museum as a lesson, where they must make some effort to get a good grade, which, in fact, does not mean anything.
People approach the museum just like they approach everything in life. There are people who believe that all tasks are solvable, they go along life with this confidence. There are those who are sure that most tasks are completely insoluble, and the only way to live their life at least somehow is to hide from the situation where it is necessary to choose such task when it will arise.
Bourdieu makes this observation for the first time not on the basis of France, but Algeria, where he writes his thesis. He talks about how different groups behave at the level of mental and physical actions in the Algerian society. We can observe this around us too.
Do You Know Who You Are?
There are people who confidently use their body, they know for sure that if they want to hang a hat on a hanger, this hanger will be in the right place. There are people who are sure that if they try to drop a hat on a hanger, they will miss this hanger at best or knock it over in the worst case. There are those who are a little more confident, but they know that they need to try and measure their movements. Otherwise, everything can come to nothing. Owning one's body is not an ideal correlation with class affiliation, but it correlates very much with belonging to status groups.
The same thing can be transferred to intellectual work. Some students are absolutely confident in their abilities and would rather think that the question is incorrectly formulated than that they do not know the answer to it. Others are initially confident of failure. And some of them know that any assignment requires a certain amount of work and time.
Aristocratic people behave imposingly. They spontaneously take freer, relaxed poses demonstrating self-confidence. In Algeria this is the most obvious in the positions of men and women because women are taught to behave like women, that is reservedly, moving slowly, with the uncertain gait. It is impossible to imagine a situation where a woman walks as freely and broadly as a man, especially a noble and free man.
A free man can be recognized by his posture and gait, by what is known in classical literature as a domineering manner. So, the domineering manner tells fast who is in front of us – an aristocrat or a plebeian. The same domineering way of behaviour is broadcast to all other areas of social life: no matter what a high-class child does, he or she behaves like a high-class child is supposed to behave, and therefore, it is very easy to get into that class again.
Bourdieu says that we will observe the same thing in science. Some graduate students undertake the task that is the most difficult and that will be the most honorable achievement. They take on a task which no one has solved yet or which all their great predecessors came to grief over. Or they undertake a task in which, as they feel, there is a great prospect. Sometimes and even often it ends with total collapse. But people who do not undertake such task never solve it.
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